tampabay.com

Vernal equinox gets a blazing welcome

By DARYL L. SCHRADER
Published March 4, 2006


The vernal equinox will occur at 1:26 p.m. on March 20 when the sun crosses the celestial equator and spring begins. On this day the sun will rise directly in the east and set directly in the west, creating equal periods of day and night.

Mercury may be seen low in the western horizon during the first few evenings of March, then low in the east-southeast the last few mornings of the month. It is near the moon on March 27. Our innermost planet will be directly between Earth and the sun on March 11.

With the coming of darkness, Mars is high in the west. It is brighter than the bright star near it, Aldebaran, until near the end of the month. Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. Notice that Mars is near the moon this weekend.

Saturn is high in the east-southeast to southeast at dusk during the first part of March. The Beehive star cluster is visible through binoculars near Saturn this month. Saturn's rings are at a 20-degree angle to us, offering some of the best views through a telescope this decade. The ringed planet will be to the right of the moon after sunset on Friday.

Jupiter rises in the east-southeast about five hours after dusk and two hours earlier as the month ends. Early risers will find it high in the southwest before dawn. Look for Jupiter to the upper left of the moon before dawn on March 18 and just above the moon before dawn on March 19.

You will find Venus above the southeast horizon as dawn approaches. It should make a beautiful sight blazing brightly to the left of the crescent moon on the morning of March 25 and then to the upper right of the crescent moon on the morning of the 26th.

Notice that Venus is easily brighter than Jupiter.

At the planetariums

Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg: There is a Saturn Watch today, with planetarium shows, lectures on Saturn and free viewing of the planet through the astronomy club's telescopes, starting at 7:30 p.m. The lectures on Saturn will be given by Dennis Farr of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club.

The Science Center is offering planetarium shows at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Learn how to build a telescope at the ongoing classes from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays in the optical laboratory in the annex building behind the main building. The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center on the fourth Friday of every month at 8 p.m. Visit its Web site at www.tampabayastronomy.com.

For more information, call (727) 384-0027 or visit www.sciencecenterofpinellas.com.

St Petersburg College, Fifth Avenue and 69th Street N, St. Petersburg: The college planetarium at the St. Petersburg campus will offer free planetarium shows at 7 and 8:15 p.m. on Fridays. Because of spring break, there will be no planetarium show on March 10.

When the skies are clear, telescopes will be open after the second show. Call (727) 341-4320 for details.

St. Pete Beach: Telescopes will be set up at dusk on March 11 for viewing, on Corey Avenue in front of the Beach Memorial Funeral Home.

Bishop Planetarium, 210 10th St. W, Bradenton: The planetarium continues with "Passport to the Universe, Search For Life: Are We Alone?" and "The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket" for the younger set.

For details, call (941) 746-4131 or visit www.southfloridamuseum.org .

Museum of Science and Industry, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa: "Animal Grossology" exhibit allows you to experience many of the yuckiest animals on Earth. It is interactive science for kids. "Bodies: The Exhibition" has been held over through April 2.

The planetarium is continuing with "More Than Meets the Eye" and the "Tonight Show," on the current evening sky. The IMAX Dome Theater presents Greece: Secrets of the Past, Mystery of the Nile and Dolphins.

The MARS astronomy club will offer free telescope viewing of Saturn and other celestial objects from sundown to 10 p.m. on March 11, weather permitting.

Call (813) 987-6100 or visit www.mosi.org for more events.

Sky calendar

TODAY: Saturn Watch at the Science Center of Pinellas County from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Planetarium shows, lectures on Saturn and free telescope viewing.

SUNDAY: Mars to the upper left of the moon after dusk.

MONDAY: First-quarter moon.

TUESDAY: Moon highest of the year in the evening sky, almost directly overhead.

FRIDAY: No planetarium show at St. Petersburg College.

MARCH 11: Free telescope viewing near the Butterfly Garden at MOSI at dusk and at St. Pete Beach in Pinellas County. Saturn is to the upper right of the moon in the east-southeast after dusk. Mercury is in inferior conjunction - between Earth and the sun.

MARCH 12: Moon is at its greatest distance (apogee), 252,450 miles.

MARCH 14: Full moon.

MARCH 16: The bright star near the moon this evening and into the morning is Spica.

MARCH 19: Brilliant Jupiter above the moon in the south-southwest before dawn.

MARCH 20: Vernal equinox is at 1:26 p.m. Spring begins.

MARCH 21: Look to the south before sunrise to find the bright star Antares to the upper right of the moon.

MARCH 22: Last quarter moon.

MARCH 24: The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at 8 p.m. at the Science Center of Pinellas County.

MARCH 25: You will find brilliant Venus to the left of the crescent moon before sunrise. Venus at its greatest angular distance (elongation) from the sun.

MARCH 26: Now Venus is above the crescent moon before sunrise.

MARCH 27: With the first glow of dawn, look for Mercury to the left of a thin crescent moon very low in the east-southeast.

MARCH 28: Moon closest (perigee) to the Earth at 223,177 miles.

MARCH 29: New moon.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.